Saturday, August 11, 2012

"What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?" - A New Production of Romeo and Juliet Dawns at Boston Center for the Arts

A new production of Romeo and Juliet dawns this weekend at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theater.  There is much to love about this version of the classic love story, as directed by Paula Plum and presented  by Happy Medium Theater.  Plum, a veteran of many Boston stages, as well as film, radio and television, has returned to her roots in Boston "Fringe" theater, and has cast a number of young and talented actors who have graced the stages of many of Boston's intimate performance spaces. 

Let me enumerate some of the highlights that shone especially brightly for me as I took in last evening's preview performance.
  • Ms. Plum's direction is nearly flawless.  Using a wonderfully simple and practical set designed by Bryan Prywes, the set changes were lightning fast, allowing the pace of the show to proceed in a way that kept most of the audience fully engaged.  The Director did a great job of infusing into the sensibilities of each member of this ensemble cast the truth that Shakespeare's antiquated language was not something to fear, but rather a treasure to embrace.  The Elizabethan language flowed naturally from the tongues of the cast members and made the story feel real and contemporary.

  • The combat scenes, under the steady hand of Fight Captain, Michael Underhill, were choreographed and enacted beautifully. I found myself cringing on several occasions because the wounds being inflicted seemed so real.

  • Among a strong ensemble cast, several performances stood out.
    • Joey C.  Pelletier as Mercutio.  Joey needs no spotlight, for wherever he wanders upon the stage, that area is lit by the inner incandescence of the actor.  His Mercutio is sometimes almost manic in his speech and mannerisms, and is always mesmerizing.  Knowing the story well, I grieved when his character was killed off early in the play, for I wanted to experience more of his perfect blending of physicality and emotionally-charged speech.
    • Kiki Samko as Prince - Casting a female actor in this traditionally male role was a bold and brilliant choice.  Ms. Samko's presence is authoritative and regal, serving to both open and close the action with commentary on the steep price of hatred that snuffs out the fragile flame of young love.
    • June Kfoury as Nurse - This keystone role is played to perfection by Ms. Kfoury - blending low comedy and bathos in just the right mixture.
    • Jesse Wood as Paris - As he always does, Mr. Wood creates a  three-dimensional character  worth caring about through a combination of physical presence, movement, vocal inflection and protean facial features.
    • Michael Underhill as Tybalt - Mr. Underhill's Tybalt embodies the pent-up rage simmering just beneath the surface of the members of the feuding clans, the Capulets and the Montagues.  His gaunt facial features set in a permanent grimace seem chiseled by the very hand of Revenge.
    • Johnnie L. McQuarley as Romeo - While Mr. McQuarley is quite a bit older than the 15 year-old Romeo, he imbues the character with enough adolescent volatility to be credible as a love-sick teenager.  He radiates passion and frustration in a high voltage performance.
    • Mikey DiLoreto as Benvolio - Mr. DiLoreto has a very distinctive style of acting that works perfectly for the catalytic role of Benvolio.  A certain air of supercilious superiority gives him the  gravitas to serve as Romeo's alter ego and apologist.

  • There are several small moments in this production that glisten like nuggets of 24-carat gold.
    • The brief scene in which Romeo implores the Apothecary, played with an appropriate sepulchral air by William Schuller, was magical.  I have always paid especially close attention to this scene ever since the Royal Shakespeare Company used it in an iconic fashion in the "play within the play" in their acclaimed production of "Nicholas Nickelby."  The scene is full of memorable lines spoken with appropriate gravity, and includes a very nice shtick wherein Schuller fumbles protractedly among the many pockets of his apron to find just the right poison to fulfill Romeo's deadly purpose.
    • The early scene in which Nurse prattles on endlessly about her memories of Juliet as a child - much to the consternation of Lady Capulet, played nobly by Tina Blythe.  She recalls her days as wet nurse to Juliet, and how she weaned her from the comfort of the breast:
      • "When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
        Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
        To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!" 
        (Act I, Scene 3)
You may have noticed that I have not yet mentioned Juliet, played earnestly by Lauren Elias.  The reason for this omission is that I found myself unconvinced that a spark of passion existed between this Juliet and her Romeo.  The lines were all presented flawlessly, yet they did not form a cord that bound the two lovers to each other in a way that was able to move me.  Hence, the death scene felt almost anticlimactic.

I asked myself why this was the case, and why I failed to bond with the Director’s casting choices for the lead roles.  And it slowly came to me why I was reacting as I was.  In preparation for directing this production, Ms. Plum watched film and video of many of the great past productions of this play, including the much-acclaimed 1968 film by Franco Zeffirelli.  For many of us, the images from that film represent the ideal of what Romeo and Juliet should look like.

Mr. McQuarley and Ms. Elias bring a decidedly different kind of physical beauty to their roles.  It occurs to me that Ms. Plum may have cast them against type to force us in the audience to "plumb the depths" of our preconceived notions of what young love may look like in this day and age.  In a sense, she "placed wormwood on the nipple" to wean us off of our expectation that beauty can only take on certain limited forms.  And so we are stretched beyond our comfort zone - the comfort we found at Zeffirelli's breast.

In order to test my theory about being moved out of a zone of comfort, I plan to see the play at least one more time to give the two lovers another chance to enter my heart - and then to break it.

Join  me in watching this fascinating production.



August 10-25, 2012
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 730pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
All Sundays and Saturday 8/18 and 8/25 at 2pm

Press Night is Saturday, August 11 at 8pm

General Admission: $24
Preview Performance Friday, August 10: $12
Wednesday Industry Nights and all Matinee performances: $12

Boston Center for the Arts
Plaza Theatre
537 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116

Phone: 617 933 8600
TTY: 617 424 0694

CAST (Alphabetical)
Michael Anderson: Lord Capulet
Brian M. Balduzzi: Balthasar
Tina Blythe: Lady Capulet
Mikey DiLoreto: Benvolio
Lauren Elias: Juliet
Mark Estano: Gregory/Page
June Kfoury: Nurse
Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia: Abram/1st Guard/Citizen
Johnnie L. McQuarley: Romeo
Joey C. Pelletier: Mercutio
Kiki Samko: Prince/Chorus
William Schuller: Sampson/Apothecary/2nd Guard
Sharon Squires: Lady Montague
Audrey Lynn Sylvia: Servant/Peter/Sister Joan
Michael Underhill: Tybalt
Arthur Waldstein: Friar Lawrence
Jesse Wood: Paris


Director: PAULA PLUM
Production Manager: Vicki Schairer
Assistant Directors: Melanie Garber and Lizette M. Morris
Stage Manager: Michele Teevan
Assistant Stage Managers: Renato Luna Dezzone and Becca Kidwell
Technical Director: Bryan Prywes
Costume Designer: Jillian Clark
Wardrobe Assistant: Erica Desautels
Lighting Designer: Daniel Chavez
Lighting Assistant: Michael Underhill
Marketing Manager: Robyn Linden
Scenic Designer/Set Construction: Bryan Prywes
Scenic Assistant: Shelley Barish
Sound Designers: Melissa deJesus and Chris Larson
Props Artisan/Master: Bryan Prywes
Fight Choreographer: Angie Jepson
Fight Captain: Michael Underhill
Choreographer: Kiki Samko
Board Operator: Michele Teevan


Anonymous said...

Juliet is one of the strongest female roles Shakespeare wrote. Elias played her like a total weakling, contorting her face into fakey sobs at every opportunity and turning the character's shows of strength into wimpy tantrums. Looking at her bio, it seems to be full of bit-parts and ensemble roles--I don't know why this role was handed to her, but I suspect money must've changed hands, and Plum should've known better than to open Elias up to all the negative criticism that's sure to roll in. (And I'm not dismissing her because she doesn't "look" the part. Juliet doesn't have to be attractive to me--she has to be attractive to Romeo. I have more sexual chemistry with my grandmother than these two had with each other.) I'm not sure why you're labeling yourself as deficient for having detected the forced romance--it's not your fault and you're not close-minded, unless you didn't like her simply because she's frumpy. God bless Johnnie McQuarley for trying as hard as he did--his performance was earnest--but he could never hope to carry such a lousy Juliet. Overall I thought the production felt safe and derivative, and in pushing the comedic aspects, Plum opened her actors up to scorn (people should not laugh when Romeo falls to the ground and sobs). Some actors were pretty good (Michael Underhill, William Schuller, and a few others) but they play's called "Romeo & Juliet" for a reason--if one of the leads is your weakest actor, the play falls apart. I'm shocked you'd go see it a second time. By my count there are two free productions going up this month, one in Saugus and one in Dorchester. I'm going to both and hoping that one of these had a wiser director with a keener eye for casting--you should consider doing the same.

Rob Kaplan said...

Did you end up going back?

Mikhail Bakunin said...

Hey Anonymous-

What are you contributing to Shakespeare by turning a flamethrower on a young actress like that? You can disagree with Plum's or Elias' choices, but there's a big difference between honest criticism and self-righteous insult. What is so sad about your attitude is that it is deeply reactionary - you will be stodgy and old soon (if you aren't already) and the only joy you will have left is trashing young actors. You know who you sound like? Tolstoy or G.B. Shaw who scorn Shakespeare for being verbose, self-indulgent, histrionic, amateur.

There is a great deal of joy in this show. I thought a dorky, insecure Juliet showed me something when the light shone through. I'm sorry you missed it. Perhaps you'll enjoy the versions in Saugus or Dorchester better, but something tells me the pleasure of Shakespeare does not come easily to someone of your high standards.

The White Rhino said...


Yes I did return, and found my heart being touched and broken - much more than had been the case the first time around.